my green vermont

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Winter Sweater

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the coming winter. It’s going to be cold, and long, and dark. Keeping warm is going to be a problem, what with the rising costs of everything, especially the fuels that we use to heat our houses. Recently, NBC News devoted several segments to strategies for keeping down heating costs: insulate your attic! Replace your furnace filters! Seal the cracks around your windows! And if you qualify, apply for government help.

These are all excellent suggestions, but at the risk of sounding un-American I will mention my favorite: put on a sweater, and turn down your thermostat.

Could anything be simpler, more instantly warming, more seasonally appropriate, hygge and gemรผtlich than putting on a cozy, fluffy sweater, hoodie, or fleece? If God had wanted us to live year round in flip-flops, shorts, and sleeveless tops She would have extended the tropics all the way to the poles (that may happen yet, but it won’t be Her doing).ย  Yet it never occurred to the NBC writers to include this age-old technique for defying the chill.

I frequently visit the premises of several well-intentioned, greenish organizations whose thermostats are set at a lower temperature in the summer than in the winter, so that one has to remember to bring a wrap in July and risk offending decorum by stripping in December. Where is the logic in this? Remember how outraged we felt by Richard Nixon’s habit of cranking up the air conditioning in the Oval Office so he could have a fire “for atmosphere” during the sweltering D.C. summers? What makes us feel that, for the first time in the history of humanity, we are entitled to the luxury of chilly rooms in summer and tropical temps in winter? Would it bring the entire country to a stand-still if we kept our thermostats at 68F in winter and 75F in summer?

Turning down the thermostat and putting on a sweater and warm pants, and supplementing them with an afghan when we’re sitting in front of the TV, will do more than save money and fuel. The air will be less dry, and our houseplants, our skin and lungs, and even our wooden furniture will thank us for it.ย  Static electricity will diminish, and our clothes will be less likely to cling in strange and annoying ways. And we will sleep more soundly, since a cool bedroom is more conducive to a good night’s sleep than an overheated one. One additional advantage of lowering the thermostat is its effect on cat behavior: it turns even the most aloof cat into an affectionate lap-warmer from October to May.

It’s not only the weather and the fading light that are making these days seem so dark. I sense a lowering of the spirits, a tide of melancholy sweeping over those around me. I think that this is in large measure due to the hopelessness and helplessness that we feel about so much of what is going on: the politics at home, the war in Ukraine, the misery in so much of the world. But the deepest, most persistent cause of our distress is the fact that we are the first generation to wake up every morning with the threat of planetary catastrophe.

It is well known that when people are caught in the midst of a disaster–floods, fires, or wars—those who survive with the least amount of psychological trauma are the ones who were able to act in some way, whether by rescuing people, carting away rubble, or offering shelter or food. When we turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater, we too are taking action, albeit in a minuscule way, against the seemingly inevitable catastrophe hurtling in our direction. When I sacrifice a bit of my personal comfort to the wellbeing of the community at large, I feel more hopeful and less guilty for my overprivileged way of life, where every imaginable comfort, from light to warmth, water, and food is available at the touch of a button. That winter sweater, with the pulled-out stitches where my cat Telemann has kneaded it, is my banner of solidarity with suffering humanity, and my emblem of compassion for the imperiled earth.



11 Responses

  1. Brava, Lali! Coming from New Zealand, where we have temperate winters (rarely, except at night, going below 0degs C) and historically notoriously poorly insulated houses (though they are improving), wearing a sweater in the winter is normal for us. So whenever I have travelled to Europe or North America in winter, it has astounded me how hot I would become once I was inside (houses/shopping malls/hotels/etc). I remember a December in Budapest when we had to open the windows because the room was so overheated. And just about expiring of the heat in Washington DC when I walked into a department store still wearing my winter coat, as snow lay on the ground outside. Not to mention that I also remember a conference centre and various hotels in Bangkok that were so cold that I needed pantyhose and jackets to work in them when it was 30 degs C or more outside. The waste of resources, no doubt fossil-fuel-fired, was (and still is) mind-boggling.

    1. Mali, how distressing to know that this wasteful habit has spread over almost the entire planet! When I was growing up in Europe and South American, sweaters were de rigueur. I think they may be again soon, but not by choice, alas.

  2. The Mexico City I grew up in had no air-conditioning OR heating. Temperate, yes, but cold in December (we wore wool wraps for the Posadas), and warm in the sun.

    Just right. You adjusted by always having a sweater – and peeling and covering depending on where you happened to be and how much you were moving.

    Snow was a one-day event every ten years, in the higher parts (Toluca), really hot weather only happened when we went to Acapulco (and there we got used to it with a fan or the ocean breeze except in the Sanborns which were glacially air-conditioned (pharmacy, store, restaurant in one).

    But I’m now incredibly temperature-sensitive, and have to rely on AC or heating to take the chill or the excessive heat down to where I can MERELY take things off or put them on (and of course our CCRC doesn’t seem to have a lot of insulation).

    My brain will stop working completely outside that range.

  3. My forceful and strong-minded paternal grandmother, born and brought up in New Brunswick, Canada, the oldest of six siblings, child of a professor of entomology. (In those days, even full professors needed extra income, usually a wife from a wealthy family.) She was kept home out of high school and college to help her mother with the other six children. (That’s another story) A memorable visit at her then residence, a nursing home: sitting in her bed she shows me that UNDER her nightgown she was wearing woolen sweater next to her skin. (“Always wear wool next to your skin,” she announced with her usual peremptory manner. Well, she was right, at least in cold weather–woolen long underwear in cold weather, sunny or a blizzard, beats any synthetic material.

    1. She must have been extremely forceful and strong-minded to tolerate a woolen sweater next to her skin! I had to wear worsted wool (from merino sheep, since we were in Spain) undershirts in winter, and they gave me a taste of the sufferings of hair shirt-wearing penitents.

  4. How about considering the aesthetics of sweaters and shawls and lap robes? I have many handknit sweaters and handwoven tops and shawls and look forward to wearing them in the winter, with their lovely blends of wools and their intricate weaving patterns.

  5. I’ve read, too, that our climate control also affects our weight. We’re not burning as many calories because our bodies are never challenged to adjust.

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